11 Ways to Boost Serotonin Naturally and Without Medication


You may be able to increase your serotonin levels without medication by spending time outdoors, adjusting your diet, and more.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) involved in many processes throughout your body, from regulating your mood to promoting smooth digestion.
It’s also known for:
promoting quality sleep by helping regulate circadian rhythms
helping regulate appetite
helping with learning and memory
helping promote positive feelings and prosocial behavior
Researchers haven’t reached a consensus on a link between serotonin levels and mental health conditions like depression. Past research believed that low serotonin levels could be the cause, but more recent research hasn’t found this to be the case. It seems most likely that your brain chemicals, environment, and genetic factors all play a role in their development, but more research in this area is still needed.
Read on to learn about different ways to relieve symptoms of mood disorders like depression and potentially increase serotonin naturally.

1. Adjust your diet

1. Adjust your diet
You can’t directly get serotonin from food, but you can get tryptophan, an amino acid converted to serotonin in your brain. Tryptophan is found primarily in high protein foods, including turkey, salmon, and tofu.
But it’s not as simple as eating tryptophan-rich foods, thanks to something called the blood-brain barrier. This protective sheath around your brain controls what goes in and out of your brain.
In a nutshell, tryptophan-rich foods are usually higher in other types of amino acids. Because they’re more abundant, these other amino acids are more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier than tryptophan.
Research suggests that eating insulin-raising carbs and foods high in tryptophan may help more tryptophan make it into your brain.
Try consuming tryptophan-rich food with 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates.
Snacking for serotonin
Here are some snack ideas to get you started:
whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese
oatmeal with a handful of nuts
salmon with brown rice
plums or pineapple with your favorite crackers
pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

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2. Get more exercise

2. Get more exercise
Exercising triggers the release of tryptophan into your blood. It can also decrease the number of other amino acids. This creates an ideal environment for more tryptophan to reach your brain.
Aerobic exercise at a level you’re comfortable with, seems to have a beneficial effect, so dig out your old roller skates or try a dance class. The goal is to get your heart rate up.
Other good aerobic exercises include:
brisk walking
light hiking

3. Bring in the bright light

3. Bring in the bright light
Research suggests that serotonin tends to be lower after winter and higher in summer and fall. Serotonin’s impact on mood supports a link between this finding and the occurrence of seasonal affective disorder and mental health concerns linked to the seasons.
Spending time in the sunshine appears to help increase serotonin levels, and research exploring this idea suggests your skin may be able to synthesize serotonin.
To maximize these potential benefits, aim to:
Spend at least 10 to 15 minutes outside each day.
Take your physical activity outside to help increase the serotonin boost brought on by exercise.
Remember to wear sunscreen if you’ll be out for longer than 15 minutes.
If you live in a rainy climate, have a hard time getting outside, or have a high risk for skin cancer, you can still increase serotonin with bright light exposure from a light therapy box.
If you have bipolar disorder, talk with a mental health professional before trying a light therapy box. Using one incorrectly or for too long has triggered mania in some people.
Spending time in nature has also been shown to increase serotonin. One study looked at the effects of forest therapy on middle-aged women and found that serotonin levels increased significantly after partaking in forest therapy.

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4. Take certain supplements

4. Take certain supplements
Some dietary supplements may help the production and release of serotonin by increasing tryptophan.
Before trying a new supplement, it’s best to check with a healthcare professional because some supplements may interact negatively with other medications and remedies.
Serotonin syndrome warning
Use caution when trying these supplements if you already take medication that increases serotonin. This includes several types of antidepressants.
Too much serotonin could cause serotonin syndrome, a serious condition that can be life threatening without treatment.
If you want to try replacing antidepressants with supplements, talk with a healthcare professional. They may help you safely taper off antidepressants. Abruptly stopping medications, including antidepressants, can have serious consequences.
Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It may be best to choose supplements that undergo quality control through third-party agencies to ensure they contain the ingredients listed on the label in the correct amounts.
Always read the label and take the recommended dosage.
Research suggests the following supplements may help increase serotonin and reduce symptoms of depression.
Pure tryptophan
Tryptophan supplements contain more tryptophan than food, making them more likely to reach your brain. A 2021 review suggests tryptophan supplements can improve mood and decrease anxiety, though more research is needed.
SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine)
SAMe appears to help increase serotonin and may improve depression symptoms. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional before taking it with any other supplements or medications that increase serotonin, including certain antidepressants and antipsychotics.
This supplement can easily enter your brain and produce serotonin. A 2021 review suggests it may benefit those with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Other research on 5-HTP suggests longer treatment duration studies are needed.
St. John’s wort
While this supplement seems to improve symptoms of depression for some people, research hasn’t shown consistent results. It also may not be ideal for long-term use.
Note that St. John’s wort can make certain medications, including some cancer drugs and hormonal birth control, less effective.
People on blood clotting medication should not take St. John’s wort as it interferes with the drug’s effectiveness. You also shouldn’t take it with medications, particularly antidepressants, that increase serotonin.
Research suggests getting more probiotics in your diet may increase tryptophan in your blood, helping more of it reach your brain.
You can take probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, and fermented foods, such as kimchi or sauerkraut.

5. Try massage therapy

5. Try massage therapy
Massage therapy may increase your levels of serotonin and dopamine, another mood-related neurotransmitter. It can also help to decrease cortisol, a hormone your body produces when stressed.
One 2018 review of studies suggests massage therapy can benefit varying conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, and prenatal depression.
While you can see a licensed massage therapist, this might not be necessary. Try swapping 20 minutes of massage with a partner, family member, or friend.

6. Try mood induction

6. Try mood induction
Too little serotonin can negatively affect your mood, but could a good mood help increase serotonin levels? Older 2007 research suggests that yes.
Thinking about something that makes you feel good can help increase serotonin in your brain, which can help promote an improved mood in general.
visualizing a happy memory
thinking about a positive experience with loved ones
looking at photos of things that make you happy, such as your pet, a favorite place, or close friends
Keep in mind that moods are complex, and it’s not always that easy to change your mood. But sometimes engaging in the process of trying to direct your thoughts toward a positive place can help.

7. Manage emotions and stress levels

7. Manage emotions and stress levels
Research suggests that chronic stress can lead to low serotonin levels and other health issues. Reducing stress may not only benefit your mood but also your overall health.
Some ways to reduce stress can include:
practicing yoga
going to therapy
practicing deep breathing exercises
listening to calming music

8. Think about sleep deprivation

8. Think about sleep deprivation
Yes, partaking in bouts of sleep deprivation could boost serotonin levels. One study found that 6 hours of sleep deprivation in mice resulted in higher serotonin levels.
However, note that disrupting your sleep should only occur in moderation, and you should talk with a doctor first.

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